This is a word for pastors and other church leaders concerning the activities your church sponsors during the Christmas season.
I wish I could tell you how to slow down and enjoy the season. Christmas for ministers is a little like the Thanksgiving meal for mom. She spends so much time planning and shopping, baking and serving, that when she finally gets a chance to sit at the table, she’s too tired to enjoy the feast. She does it for the family.
That’s the ministers. They have a hard time enjoying all the services and ministries of Christmas since they themselves are spread so thin.
Following are a few suggestions–urgings, even (that’s stronger)–as to how to make the most of these events in your church, pastor.
One. If possible, for at least one service during the month, drop in on the Christmas service of a neighboring church.
This will allow you to worship anonymously, to sit back and listen, to stand up and sing, without a single thought as to what you must do next.
My family used to drop in on a nearby Catholic church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It will not surprise you to learn that some of the liturgy bypassed us. But we loved the pageantry and the readings, the songs and the joy in the air.
Two. When your church provides banquets and dinners, you and your spouse are servers.
I’m indebted to Atlanta’s Bill and Carolyn Self for this suggestion from decades ago. In a book on pastoral hospitality, the Selfs told what they do for church dinners: they eat early, then spend the dinner hour serving the people who have come to the meal. They mix and mingle, pouring tea and coffee, hugging the senior adults, and in general schmoozing everyone.
A pastor and his wife will do more ministry in one hour at such a dinner than they will do in a normal week.
Three. Consider not turning over the Sunday morning service to the choir for their program.
It’s tempting to do this–for the minister to take a break from preaching and let the choir fill the hour–but my opinion, for the little it’s worth, is that there is a better way. Instead, consider letting the choir do 10 minutes of the best of the Christmas program in the middle of the morning service as a teaser to get the people back that night. That way, the pastor still gets to preach.
Is it important for the pastor to preach? It is if we can believe that “it is by the foolishness of preaching that men are saved” (I Corinthians 1:18). This is not to say people cannot hear the gospel during a musical program. It’s simply an admission that preaching is the primary tool God uses.
By involving as many people in the production as possible, particularly the children’s choirs, you’re already going to be drawing an excellent attendance to the performance. I’m simply suggesting you do the program Sunday night.
Four. Anticipate having visitors to your church during the Christmas season.
Get your key leadership and do a walk-around of your church. Whatever you do, pastor, do not do this alone. All you’ll do is frustrate yourself. But, select a number of key men and women to go with you.
Walk around the grounds and look at everything: the entrances, the doors, the signage. Do the entrances need sweeping? Does anything need a new coat of paint? Does everything look attractive? Is there anything more that could be done to improve its curb appeal?
Then, walk inside and do the same. Check out the bathrooms together. Yes, the women can go inside the men’s also and vice versa. (Presumably, you’re doing this at a time other than when people are gathered at the church.) Is the place clean? Waste baskets empty? Water fountains working? Floors clean?
On the day of the events, make sure all the doors to the sanctuary are open well in advance of the start. Many people like to arrive as much as an hour early to get a good seat. Few things are more discouraging than to arrive at a church and find the doors locked.
Five. Promote your next big service.
If the biggest crowd of the year will be in place tonight for the adult choir’s program, plan to have posters and flyers visible promoting the childrens’ program next Wednesday night. Or the Vespers Service on Christmas Eve.
Don’t miss a great opportunity to let your guests know of other events coming up which they will want to participate in.
Six. Stay on message with your Christmas sermons.
It’s so easy to go to one extreme or the other during this season. Some pastors spend all their time (and may I say, waste all their energy) complaining about the commercialization of the holiday and the consumerism that drives people to spend too much on decorations, food, travel, and presents. On the other hand, it’s just as possible to sugar-coat and sentimentalize your messages to the point that the worshipers will need a shot of insulin on their way out the door.
What is the message of Christmas? Just this….
You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)
The message of Christmas is many things in a secondary way. But the primary message is that there is a Savior and His name is Jesus.
Emblazon that on a billboard near your church and the world would see this as a bold statement that you and your people are a narrow-minded fundamentalist bunch preaching sulfur and brimstone. Even a great segment of the Christian community would come to the same conclusion.
Which shows just how far we have strayed from reality.
The angel told Joseph that Jesus would “save His people from their sins.” The angel told the shepherds that the good news from Heaven is a Savior has been born in Bethlehem.
Saviors save people. They are rescuers.
After Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters inundated the city of New Orleans, National Guardsmen and others arrived in helicopters to pluck stranded residents off their rooftops. Some came in boats and saved many a life.
Imagine someone showing up at your house today in a boat, and knocking at your door. “We’re here to save you,” they announce.
You stare at them. What planet are these guys from, you wonder. You say, “Thank you, but I don’t need saving. I’m high and dry. See? Look around. There is no danger. You are wasting your valuable time today, gentlemen.”
That is precisely how the world sees you and me when we tell them that Jesus Christ has come as their Savior. They see us as irrelevant. Unnecessary.
–First, people must learn the reality of their situation. They must learn that they are sinners under the judgment of God, and thus in great danger. They are lost, they are spiritually dead.
–Then, and only then, after they realize the gravity of their situation, are they ready to receive the good news from Heaven that “Jesus Saves.”
I challenge you, pastor, to not let one service go by throughout the Christmas season without your reminding the worshipers that the coming of the Lord Jesus was to be a Savior.
That may be why He was born in a stable, as a matter of fact. He was after all, the Lamb of God, come to bear away the sins of the world.
It’s the best message there is. Be careful and not let it get lost in the tinsel and glitter.